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Generative AI images liven up Great Ormond Street Hospital facade

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Design studio Haque Tan worked with children from the hospital’s school to co-create colourful AI organisms that ‘burst out’ of the hospital’s new entrance

Still from one of the animations displayed on the facade.
Still from one of the animations displayed on the facade. Credit: Hague Tan

Architects are increasingly exploring the use of generative AI tools to support design development but one studio has gone a stage further and integrated the AI images directly into a building facade.

Newly formed practice Haque Tan worked with children at Great Ormond Street Hospital School to design a new entrance for the hospital, combining images of real plants and fungi with other-worldly AI animations of ‘digital’ plants.

Referred to as Wild Imaginarium, the steel and glass facade was commissioned by Great Ormond Street Hospital Arts in collaboration with the Hospital School to serve as the hospital’s primary entrance during a major construction period over the next few years.

Vulnerable children aged three to sixteen helped develop the design, which is based on the theme of ‘life bursting out’ of the building. The facade helps transform the potentially difficult experience of arriving at the hospital into something celebrating life.

The entrance was co-created with students aged 3 to 16 from the Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
The entrance was co-created with students aged 3 to 16 from the Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Credit: Luke O'Donovan

The colourful flowerbed of strange organisms, including ‘a pomeranian flower’, ‘popcorn fungi’ and ‘fire-breathing dragon-head plant’, is brought to life as animations on screens integrated into the facade, which change over time in response to the seasons and the weather. The screens blend into a surrounding collage of real plants and fungi photographed in the local area. 

Another key aim of the project was to explore AI’s potential to support ‘imaginative, unscripted, and unpredictable experiences’. The software’s simple text-to-image prompts made it possible for children of all ages, abilities or medical needs to explore their ideas and bring them to life quickly.

‘There has been a lot of debate about generative AI and its relationship to labour and copyright etc,’ Haque Tan co-founder Usman Haque tells RIBA. ‘But we wanted to really show that it’s possible to embrace it as a form of co-creation that can bring to the foreground participants' creativity and imagination.’

The practice’s co-founders have over 20 years’ experience working as creative technologists developing software tools and blending the digital and the physical to create new experiences.

Wild Imaginarium was conceived to blur the boundaries between physical and digital, human and non-human, natural and artificial, real and virtual.
Wild Imaginarium was conceived to blur the boundaries between physical and digital, human and non-human, natural and artificial, real and virtual. Credit: Haque Tan

‘Some people will see this as art, some as architecture, others as technology,’ says fellow co-founder Ling Tan. ‘That's where it gets really interesting for us.If you can create conversations around the smart use of AI in architecture, you can really challenge designers to explore how far they can push things using these tools.’

Haque says that, as digital technologies increasingly define how people interact with the urban environment, it is vital that architects get to grips with the challenges now. ‘With so many non-architectural companies and organisations starting to define how ordinary people interact with the city, we need to think about technology from an experiential perspective, because it is transforming how we relate to each other and to the spaces around us,’ he concludes.

Tan adds: ‘The energy and imagination of the school children was a joy to bring to life. We loved exploring how generative AI could help. With Wild Imaginarium we present a world in which these disparate elements and different perspectives can coexist in an ever-changing interactive landscape.’

 

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